How are we participating in God’s story? Vancouver writer Julie Lane-Gay reflects.
My introverted friends and husband have confessed – they’re looking forward to a Covid Christmas. There will be a calm six at the table instead of a boisterous 16. We will not race off to church at 10:40 p.m. Christmas Eve only to return home to stacks of dishes piled by the sink.
But I won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with my mother, who lives in San Francisco, and perhaps for the first time ever she will be alone. Finances are tighter – gifts will be low-key.
We will not be in church to hear those wonderful words proclaimed to the cold, bewildered shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people." I won’t hear the lone soprano singing a cappella "O Holy Night" that every year rings through our sanctuary and finds its way through the cracks in my weary soul.
WHEN I stumble through something hard, a good friend shrugs her shoulders, winces with hesitation and wisely asks, "What’s God’s invitation to you in this?"
This Christmas I think my invitation will be to practise hope. Poet Wendell Berry coined that brilliant sentence "Practice resurrection." This invitation will be similar – to live in hope in God’s purposes and ways in His world, in His coming again to redeem everything. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he urges us to "Put on the helmet of hope"–which means our hope in Christ protects me and you from flailing in faith amid the chaos of the world.
Practising hope will mean trying to strengthen my hope like a muscle. The first step will be to reorient myself, yet again, daily (hourly?) so I remember I am living not just in a hopeless, politically-charged, racially-divided, increasingly dangerous mess, but in God’s world, in His big story, where far more is going on than I can see. He is holding all things together.
C. S. Lewis speaks about this larger story in his wonderful explanation in Miracles (Macmillan, 1947) that suffering, death, resurrection and hope are "what the story is all about, and had we but eyes to see it, this has been hinted at on every page, met us, in some disguise, at every turn, and even been muttered in the conversations between such minor characters (if there are minor characters) as the vegetable.
Practising hope will mean redirecting my eyes through the day on the hints, the mutterings and the vegetables.
Practising hope will be putting every Nativity set I can find around my house so my eye might remind my heart that Christ comes into the messiest of living rooms and kitchen counters.
While our gathering will be small, I will get together with my sisters and brothers in Christ who encourage my faith. Over and over I am struck by how gathering with even a few not only kindles hope, it deepens hope’s roots.
I will try to rest. I am dismal at resting, but just as taking the Sabbath reminds me we rest because God can handle everything just fine without us, rest conveys to my soul that hope does not depend on my efforts.
I will try to pray some of the collects from the Book of Common Prayer. Collects are prayers that start with not just an address ("Almighty God"), but an acknowledgment, a description of God upon which we are invited to base our prayers – "whose property is always to have mercy" or "who has wakened us to praise thee and ask for thy grace."
When we say these old prayers (some go back to the 3rd century), we pray in solidarity with those who have prayed these words through the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu.
I will try to sing, even if all by myself. I have a terrible voice (you’d cringe), but singing of God’s goodness and love for me, and for His world, deepens my hope. Just as in the beginning of Covid, all the "Blessings" music clips – the U.K. Blessing, the Singapore Blessing, the Kenyan Blessing – gave me hope by seeing God’s Spirit at work in far parts of the world, so will the announcing carols of Christmas.
In practising hope I will try to struggle through Covid as a participant in God’s story. He gave His own son, to me and to you. He brought Christmas not just to show His bigger than everything love, but that we might live in confident, joyful hope in the years to come.
Julie Lane-Gay is editor of Crux journal and a writer based in Vancouver.